Imagens das páginas


Cumberland produces his Summer's Tale.- His felicity in being independent of booksellers.Has a controversy with Bickerstaff-Roused to a pursuit of the legitimate drama by the remonstrance of Smith.Visits Ireland with his family.Account of his father's improvements in the condition of the peasantry of his diocese.Returns to England, and produces his comedy of The BroTHERS.-His mode of study censured.The characters of that play examined.-Mrs. Inchbald's opinion controverted.---The epilogue contains some delicate flattery to Garrick.--Arrogance of the

prologue. NEITHER the duties nor the emoluments of his station, were such as tempted him to remain intellectually idle. He had leisure for labour, and occasion for money; and he resorted to the stage as the easiest way of performing the one and acquiring the other.

Bickerstaff had been successfully producing his Love in a Village, and The Maid of the Mill; the people had acquired a relish for music and songs ; and an author who wished to try the issue of a dramatic attempt could not select a plan less liable to miscarriage than the composition of an English opera. The judgment of the audience was transferred from the mind to the ear; the composer, the

[ocr errors]

fiddler, and the singer, ensured the success of the writer; wit, humour, language, character, and incident, modestly retired from view, while a succession of dialogues, leading naturally or not naturally to a song and a dance, supported the author's fame, and filled his pockets.

An undertaking thus humble in performance was the first to which the dramatic muse of Cumberland addressed herself; and after a few weeks diligence produced The Summer's Tale. The music was chiefly composed by Abel, Bach, Arne, and Arnold; Beard, Miss Brent, Mr. and Mrs. Mattocks, supported the vocal parts; and Shuter aided the comic: but with all this profusion of assistance, the piece languished through nine nights, and was then heard of no more. The motto which Cumberland prefixed to it when published, aptly designated its value:-Vox, et preterea nihil:-yet, I should suspect his own opinion of its worthlessness to be rather assumed than real, for he attempted again to interest the public in its favour, by presenting it to their notice, somewhat altered, and under the name of Amelia. He gave the profits of the ninth night to the Fund for the support of decayed actors : but the ninth night of an unsuccessful play would not produce a very splendid donation.

Cumberland may now be considered as having made his deliberate decision, and entered upon, that career which, I have already observed, was most congenial to his temper, pursuits, and ac

quirements. It deserves to be reckoned, however, among the felicities of this period of his life, that his condition was such as exempted him from the degrading necessity of toiling for booksellers as their drudge. His was a free election, and freely he pursued it. In privacy he excogitated the subjects he chose to discuss, in privacy he pursued them, wrote when he pleased, and what he pleased. His mind was not harrassed by the dread of poverty, and all its train of iron evils ; he saw no miseries hovering over his devoted steps if he remitted the eternal movements of his pen; his genius suffered no insults from a race of men who estimate the progress of mind by the progress of a printer's compositor, and know no difference between the labours of excellence and those of rapidity; who contract for the production of a book, as a man does for a suit of clothes, and sume that it is as easy to controul the operations of intellect as those of a tailor's needle; who have no conception that delay can produce benefit, or that to digest the materials of a work, to arrange them with perspicuity, to amend, to revise, to pause for better modes of reason, or happier methods of illustration, would confer an additional value upon the performance that is to be produced; all this is unembodied fantasy, mere visionary rant to them; and the very thing they want, (a saleable commodity, to use their own phrase) is often defeated by their improvident haste to obtain it. From toils like these Cumberland


was absolved; he wrote for himself and from himself; and it is only those, who like a Johnson, a Goldsmith, and a Dryden, endured a harder fate, that can fully appreciate the value of that liberty, or fully feel the debasement and humility of its opposite slavery. If there be a condition more truly lamentable than another, it is that where a man of talent is doomed, by the augustæ res domi, to tramel in his mind to the conceptions of those who rate the labours of intellect like the labours of the hand, by the simple computation of reiterated motion. The history of literature is full of instances which justify this anathema; it is a servitude which every man, who can feel its bitterness must wish to see destroyed. It is not imaginary: it has a real existence: hundreds have smarted beneath the yoke: hundreds still pine under its galling pressure: and hundreds yet unborn will feel it too. Credidi, propter quod locutus sum.

Exceptions there have been, honourable exceptions, to this general character. I have known some: I have read of more than I have known; the names of Elmsley, Becket, and Nichols, are recorded in the imperishable pages of men of genius ; they deserve to be so, and I wish the list could be extended beyond my patience to transcribe.

Cumberland, happy in enjoying a privilege of value, beyond all price, to an intellectual man, found other enemies to combat with, teasing enough, but not so formidable to a man's happi

The jealous spirit of literary enterprise so far prevailed in Bickerstaff, that he considered the composition and production of operas as his own unalienable right; 'as a possession which he had acquired, nobody enquired how, but which nobody was to infringe upon. Accordingly, when Cumberland presumed to occupy a portion of that territory which he had vainly marked out as his own, he employed every engine of open and concealed hostility, to drive him from his lodgement. Intelligence of this enmity reached the knowledge of its object, and Cumberland, perfectly with the spirit and liberality of a gentleman, remonstrated with the petulant and monopolising author. He considered his attack as arising not from any motives of personal dislike, but from those feelings which possess a man when he believes another to be unfairly obstructing his livelihood. Bickerstaff had persuaded himself, that all competition with him was, in fact, a direct violation of his rights; and as his whole support was derived from the emoluments which his musical productions supplied, he was naturally solicitous respecting any interference which threatened to abridge those emoluments. These were the arguments of a needy man, but not of a just one. They were such, however, as had their weight with Cumberland, and he wrote to Bickerstaff upon the subject. The letter he did not preserve; but its purport was this, " that if his contempt of Cumberland's performance was really what he professed it to be, he had no need to fear him as a rival, and might relax from his in

« AnteriorContinuar »